Northern Arizona county attorney Sheila Polk to retire at year’s end

Nov 4, 2022, 6:00 PM
(The Daily Courier via AP, File)...
(The Daily Courier via AP, File)

(The Daily Courier via AP, File)

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) — Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk announced Friday that she is retiring after a long career that included a high-profile trial in a deadly sweat lodge ceremony and an aggressive campaign against synthetic drugs.

After 22 years as the county’s top prosecutor, Polk’s office in Prescott announced Friday that she will step down at the end of the year.

“I am looking forward to the next phase of my life that will allow me more time with family, and the opportunity to volunteer more in my community and pursue my recreational interests,” Polk said in a news release.

The announcement made no mention of who would take over for her in the interim.

Polk said she would personally always value the role she played in the prosecution of James Ray, the self-help author whose makeshift sweat lodge near Sedona led to the deaths of three people in 2009.

Prosecutors accused Ray of recklessly cramming more than 50 participants of his “Spiritual Warrior” event into a 415-square-foot (39 square-meter) sweat lodge. He then chided them for wanting to leave, even as people were vomiting, getting burned by hot rocks and lying on the ground.

Before the trial, Polk pursued a gag order to keep Ray and his attorneys from continuing to appear on national news shows that could taint a jury pool.

Ray was later sentenced to two years for each death with the sentences served concurrently. He was paroled in 2013.

Polk is also known for leading an effort to permanently criminalize the sale of synthetic drugs known as “bath salts” or “spice.” In 2012, her office got an emergency temporary restraining order. In her lawsuit, she called the drugs “a public nuisance.” Her office gathered over 100 affidavits from members of the community, the mental health care field, law enforcement and others testifying to the harm the drugs caused.

A year later, the U.S. Drug Enforcement and Polk’s office touted a Yavapai County Superior Court judge’s order to allow a permanent injunction outlawing all known retailers from selling the drugs.

Polk’s legal career spans 40 years from when she graduated from Arizona State University College of Law in 1982. She went on to clerk for the Arizona Supreme Court for one year. Polk then joined the Arizona Attorney General’s Office for 11 years.

In 1994, she moved to the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office and became the deputy county attorney for seven years.

She was elected to the top spot in 2000 and was consistently reelected.

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Northern Arizona county attorney Sheila Polk to retire at year’s end